Whether you work in a busy office or a busy home, there’s plenty to distract you. Besides preventing you from getting things done, distractions can negatively impact your work relationships. For example, careless errors and forgotten appointments can damage your reputation in the eyes of your clients and colleagues. Don’t let it happen to you! Let’s identify strategies to fight thirteen common work distractions.
If distractions were diseases, your cell phone would be the plague-spreading host organism. Besides phone calls, you might receive text messages and notifications. You might be tempted to play games or check social media. However, let’s face facts. Unless your cell phone is essential to your job, nothing is stopping you from putting it on silent and tucking it out of sight during work hours. In an emergency, your loved ones can reach you on the landline. If you need your cell phone to work, limit yourself to the functions and apps that directly relate to your job.
Social Media and Games
Some people find it easier to resist temptation if they permit themselves to check social media or play games during their lunch break. You will have a guilt-free pleasure to look forward to and an extra incentive to keep your nose to the grindstone. If your willpower doesn’t cut it, block your most irresistible diversions on your web browser. You can install monitoring programs on your mobile devices, too. Mobile Spy logs what you do with your phone, allowing you to see how much time you spend (or waste) on nonessential activities.
Answering emails quickly is a plus in the business world. However, every email doesn’t have the same priority. Delete or archive emails that don’t need a reply (e.g. spam, newsletters, receipts). Send an immediate response to urgent requests and major clients. Star or mark as unread lower-priority and non-work-related emails. A recent feature of Outlook called Focused Inbox might make organizing your email simpler for you. The Focused Inbox divides your inbox into two category tabs, displaying only important messages in your Focused tab. Email sorted into the Other tab is out of sight until you are ready to deal with it. Of course, you can move emails from one box to another, and the program prioritizes emails from frequent contacts.
How do you discourage interruptions while preserving friendly relations with colleagues? One woman was so distraught that she wrote to Lifehacker.com for advice: “Whether I’m in the middle of a task or . . . trying to talk on the phone . . . , these folks keep coming up to socialize. I like them . . . so I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but how can I make them stop bothering me?” Lifehacker responded with some great ideas.
Wearing noise-canceling headphones serves a dual purpose. Even if you aren’t listening to music, which could itself be distracting, you appear unapproachable and busy to your coworkers. They probably won’t disturb you unless they have good reason. If someone is so bold as to talk to you while you have them on, don’t take them off. Tilt them away from your ears to give a brief reply before replacing them. If you pair your answer with a smile before looking away, they should get the hint that the conversation is over without being offended. The second benefit is that they do drown out background noise! If your company doesn’t allow them, you may accomplish the same illusion with your phone headset.
Family and Friends
Lifehacker.com offered three tips to “Not-so-chatty Cathy” that might indirectly discourage your family and friends from disturbing your work time. (1) Make them do something for you. If your partner calls multiple times to chat, ask them to do something for you. “I’m so glad you called back, I forgot to take that load of clothes out of the dryer! Can you do it for me so my shirts don’t get so wrinkled?” With any luck, your partner will rush off to your rescue and you’ll be free to continue your project. (2) Don’t make it worth their while. If they regularly call you at work, they might be bored and looking to be entertained by your sarcastic wit. Instead of providing amusement, be a conversational dud. Lackluster replies might prompt them to ask if anything’s wrong. That’s your opportunity! Explain that nothing’s wrong, but you’re too busy to talk right now. Ask if you can call them back at a more convenient time, and make sure you follow through on your promise. If that becomes the norm, you should be able to break their habit of calling during work hours.
Getting rid of interruptions from customers is tricky. Offend them or make them feel unvalued, and you’ve lost your bread and butter. The best way to handle it is to make the clients feel that you are busy managing their needs. You might say something along these lines: “Hi Greg. I was just researching the data I need for your project, but I can set it aside if you need me now. Otherwise, can you call and leave a message for me on my voicemail letting me know what I can do for you?” He might decide he’d rather you finish up what you’re doing. You might also delegate some small client requests to your assistant. “Oh, yes! Barbara is ready to take care of that for you right now!”
Is it fair to blame all of the distractions on other people? You probably do your fair share of procrastination for various reasons
Daydreaming and Worrying
What can you do to keep your mental focus? When a concern or question pops up, make a note of it so you can take care of it later without letting it preoccupy your mind. Dehydration can sap your energy and concentration, too. Keep a water bottle near your desk and take sips throughout the day to stay hydrated.
The culprit could be your lunch box. Foods high in fat and sugar can make you drowsy! Almonds, salmon, and kale reportedly boost energy. Set a bedtime for yourself and ban electronic devices an hour before that time to get a good night’s sleep.
Your Work Space
Noise What if it’s not the people but your work environment that distracts you? You won’t get much work done if you are always getting up to adjust the thermostat or yelling across the cubicle wall for your neighbor to turn his music down. In these instances, preventive measures are in order. Wear your noise-canceling earphones to drown out your cubicle-mate’s tunes. You might also find a quiet corner away from your desk, such as an empty meeting room. If all else fails, bring a white noise machine, a device designed to mask unpleasant noise with soothing or pleasing sounds. And if a coworker asks what it is or why you have it, your explanation might prompt them to think twice the next time they talk on the phone or play music in the cubicles around you.
Temperature Dress for work in layers that can be removed or added so that you maintain a comfortable temperature. If it’s allowed, buy a personal space heater for your office. Most heaters double as fans, so you can stay cool in the summertime too.
Whether you work remotely or in a bustling office, distractions abound. Fortunately, you can avoid, reduce, or even eliminate most distractions. Don’t let anything interrupt your mission to apply these tips!